What does it mean to “take up your cross”

In Matthew 16:24-26, Jesus says:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

This verse is almost always used by religious people as an introduction to suffering, and “trying harder”. If you want to be a disciple, then follow this path, and suffer. But let’s break this down and see what Jesus really wants. When Jesus says to “take up your cross”, that is not an invitation to suffer, it is an invitation to death. And it is not an invitation to martyrdom.

This is the grace of Jesus expressed as a true understanding of the cross. He starts by saying “you must deny yourself…”. Typically that gets taught as give stuff up, and be miserable. I don’t think we are getting the full weight of this. After the cross, Paul says:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Now, put these two verse together, and you will see what Jesus was calling you to. For us to live in Christ, our old selves must die. In fact, they have (we HAVE been crucified with Christ). We have to deny the flesh (greek sarx-the faith on our self), and take up the life of Christ (living by faith in Him). Denial of the flesh s to not allow the dead flesh rise up again – leave it at the Cross. Paul is saying over and over in His epistles that “you have died”, and “you have been crucified”. It’s a done deal. We now a positioned in the heavenlies seated with Christ. That who we are now.

If you really take him at the religious interpretation, he is not calling you to suffer, he is calling you to die. The suffering and misery idea waters down the words of Jesus. If we interpret Jesus’ words as try harder and suffer more, then we will actually be working by our own flesh, and or own abilities. We will not be walking by faith. But, if we trust the we have picked up the cross, and have been crucified, then we can leave the old dead  flesh behind and start living the life of Christ. Only then will we live the life that Jesus promised:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

If we walk by the flesh, the thief will rule our lives. If we walk in the Spirit of newness of life, we will have life, and we will have it in abundance.